Bomber in Plot on U.S. Airliner Is Said to Be a Double Agent
WASHINGTON — The would-be suicide bomber dispatched by the Yemen branch of Al Qaeda last month to blow up a United States-bound airliner was actually a double agent who infiltrated the terrorist group and volunteered for the suicide mission, American and foreign officials said Tuesday.
In an extraordinary intelligence coup, the agent left Yemen, traveling by way of the United Arab Emirates, and delivered both the innovative bomb designed for his air attack and critical information on the group’s leaders to the C.I.A., Saudi and other foreign intelligence agencies.
After spending weeks at the center of the terrorist network’s most dangerous affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the agent provided critical information that permitted the C.I.A. to direct the drone strike on Sunday that killed Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, the group’s external operations director and a suspect in the bombing of the American destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000.
He also handed over the bomb, designed by the group’s top explosives expert to be invisible to airport security, to the F.B.I., which is analyzing its properties.
Officials would not disclose the agent’s identity, nationality, or the intelligence service that recruited him, though they said it was not the C.I.A. The agent is now safe in Saudi Arabia, officials said. The bombing plot was kept secret for weeks by the C.I.A. and other agencies because they feared retaliation against the agent and his family.
Officials said Tuesday night that risk has now been “mitigated,” evidently by moving both the agent and his relatives to safe locations.